Novice to Master:
An Ongoing Lesson in the Extent of My Own Stupidity
By Soko Morinaga Roshi; Translated by Belenda Attaway Yamakawa
Wisdom Publications: Massachusetts. 2002 144 pp.; $19.95 (cloth)

Novice to Master is a posthumous offering of Soko Morinaga Roshi’s humble, unadorned, yet powerful insights into Zen practice, monastic training, and the subtle machinations underlying the teacher/student relationship. The book is at once a refreshingly direct account of the tribulations and joys of the Zen path—tracing Soko Roshi’s own progression from bumbling beginner to wise master—and an honorific look at the grand tradition of the Japanese Rinzai School of Zen.

From the first page of the text, Soko Roshi (1925-1995) shows us a Zen practice that is raw, intimate, and difficult. This book offers no quick fixes, no abstract philosophy or fanciful New Age nosttums. Its eloquence is in its unabashed directness. “Pissing is something that no one else can do for you. Only you can piss for yourself,” he lectures a university audience. When the audience laughs, Soko Roshi clarifies his point. “But you must realize that to say ‘You have to piss for yourself; nobody else can piss for you’ is to make an utterly serious statement.”

Soko Roshi continually directs the reader to abandon all preconceived notions of Zen and religious practice in general.

‘Meeting with a broom, become that broom; meeting with a bowl of rice, become that bowl of rice.’ Such expressions are standard fare in Zen, but the question is: How do you put it into practice in daily life?

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